Academic journal article Family Relations

Black Adolescent Females: A Comparison of Early versus Late Coital Initiators

Academic journal article Family Relations

Black Adolescent Females: A Comparison of Early versus Late Coital Initiators

Article excerpt

Practitioners, researchers, educators, and policymakers continue to express concern about the increasing number of adolescents who are becoming sexually active. This issue is important because of the established association between early coital experiences and increased pregnancy risk, early childbearing, and increased contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, especially human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (Hayes, 1987; Jessor, Costa, Jessor, & Donovan, 1983). Much attention has been given to the relatively young age at sexual initiation among black youth compared to those of other races. In fact, data show that urban black females become sexually active at a mean age of 14.4 years; the comparable age is 16.2 years for whites (Moore & Erickson, 1985; Zabin, Smith, Hirsch, & Hardy, 1986; Zelnik & Shah, 1983). Other researchers report that black females are more likely to become pregnant during adolescence (Henshaw & VanVort, 1989), are 2.5 times as likely to carry the pregnancy to term, and 5.5 times as likely to be single mothers as are their white counterparts (Bumpass & McLanahan, 1987).

Some studies, however, are based on information obtained from convenient, clinical nonprobability samples representing low-income blacks and middle-income whites. Given this constraint, some researchers have expressed concern about the generalizability of studies on adolescent sexuality (Bell-Scott & McKenry, 1986; Murry, 1992; Weddle, McKenry, 8L Leigh, 1988). Further, it is not uncommon for researchers to exclude information about internal family processes and to fail to consider within-group differences in attempting to understand issues of sexuality among blacks. In view of these concerns, the main goal of the present study is to identify factors that contribute to the timing of first sexual intercourse among a nationally representative sample of black adolescent females. Toward this end, (a) socioeconomic indicators (e.g., family income, mothers' educational status, and mothers' employment status), (b) parental control (e.g., degree of strictness), (c) family structure, (d) family sexuality socialization, (e) pubertal timing, (f) adolescent's sexual knowledge about reproduction and contraception, (g) social autonomy (e.g., adolescent's employment patterns), and (h) religiosity (e.g., frequency of church attendance) were examined for their usefulness in discriminating adolescents who will become sexually active at age 15 years or younger from those who wait until age 18 years and beyond.



Social and economic status of families seem to be fundamentally related to adolescent sexual behavior patterns. Most studies, however, do not consider variation in family socioeconomic status in attempting to understand and explain black adolescent sexuality. In recent years, a few studies have revealed a lower incidence of early coital behavior among black adolescent females from middle-income families and among those whose mothers had high educational attainment (Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985; Leigh, Weddle, & Loewen, 1988). On the other hand, daughters of low-income families are at greater risk because early sexual experimentation appears to be more socially acceptable in their neighborhoods (Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985). In addition, lack of perceived or real opportunities, in terms of marriage, education, and employment, may precipitate early coital behavior among low-income youth as a pathway to adult status (Abrahamse, Morrison, & Waite, 1988; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985). However, to test the generalizability of this relationship, there is a need to examine this phenomenon in nationally representative samples.


Empirical data supporting the association between parental control and adolescent sexual behavior indicate that daughters are less likely to initiate sexual intercourse at a young age when their parents define limits and supervise dating activities (Abrahamse et al. …

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